Communities can’t warn of every hazard

March 20, 2013

In this country, just about anyone can bring a lawsuit, and as a result there’s a pretty wide range when it comes to the merits of the filings.

Which brings us to the case of state constable G. Scott Lucy of Ellsworth, who was trying to chase down a man who was threatening harm to himself in Richeyville in June 2011 when he stepped into an “unguarded culvert” on Richey Street that directs stormwater into a wooded area below.

Lucy, according to the lawsuit he has filed against Centerville Borough, fell and injured his shoulder, which required arthroscopic surgical procedures to mend. The constable is accusing the borough of negligence because it failed to illuminate the ditch, which he said is impossible to see after dark. Dark will do that.

Lucy is seeking $50,000 in damages, and his wife wants another $50,000 for “loss of consortium.” We wouldn’t be surprised if the borough’s insurance carrier considers the case a nuisance and offers a settlement. But if such nuisance suits are settled by cutting checks often enough, the borough’s insurance premiums would no doubt rise, and we know who ends up paying that bill.

In the meantime, we wonder what steps the borough might take to prevent this from happening again. Perhaps it can send out the fellows from the street department to scour the area for any unguarded and unlit ditches, wait for a sale at Lowe’s or Home Depot, and buy a bunch of those little solar-powered patio lights that could then be deployed around all the dips and depressions across the municipality. Who knows, if they find a really sweet deal, they might be able to afford enough of the lights to create a nice two-level effect. Or, if they want to dream big, they could cobble together a ditch-centric light show that would rival the Christmas display at Oglebay and draw in some tourists.

Another option to deal with these “unguarded” culverts might be to hire guards to patrol them, but they, too, might fall prey to one of the holes, and there you go again.

Also, ditches surely aren’t the only hazards facing constables and citizens, alike. What about some signs warning of “Gently rolling hillocks ahead” or “Grass may be ‘slippy’ on dewy mornings”?

We kid, of course, but the reality is that municipalities can’t provide warning signs or lights for every potential hazard within their borders, and they shouldn’t be held accountable every time someone steps into a hole and wrenches a knee or elbow.

This was an accident. It was no one’s fault. That’s why it’s called an accident. We would hope that any judge or jury hearing this case would recognize that and send the plaintiffs packing.



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